More than once theological and dogmatic questions were also raised with great poignancy. One should not forget the immanent difficulties or temptations of ascetic experience and thought. First of all, the question of sin and freedom arose. Connected with this was another question concerning the sacraments and prayer. In another formulation this is also a question about grace and freedom — or struggle; that is, man’s creative coming-into-being. It is not surprising that Pelagianism and Origenism — and even the heresy of the Eutychians — disturbed monastic circles.

All these individual questions reduce to one general question, one which concerned fate and man’s path. In ascetic texts we find not only psychological and ethical meditations but also the metaphysics of human life. The problems of asceticism could be resolved only in a precise dogmatic synthesis. This was clear even with St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians. Christological disputes were resolved not only by dogmatic synthesis but by ascetic synthesis as well. We find it in St. Maximus the Confessor. Dogmatics and ascetics are organically and inseparably brought together in the system of St. Maximus.

The essence of the spiritual ideal of monasticism is within Christianity from the beginning. Monasticism is not an aberration from original and authentic Christianity, not a distortion of the Gospel, of the kerygmatic apostolic deposit. Rather it is one form of Christian spirituality, a form whose essential features are found in the Gospels, the epistles of the New Testament, and in the life of the early Church. The fourth century merely begins to develop, to organize those ideals, those precepts which were always a part of the Christian message. And it is precisely here that one of the deepest problems facing the Ecumenical Movement is to be found — there are two basic and contradictory views toward monasticism. And in these two opposing views toward monasticism one clearly sees two differing views toward the essence of the Christian message, toward the Christian vision of God, man, and redemption, toward the very essence of Christian spirituality. The question must be raised. It must be confronted, not forgotten or neglected. What precisely were those essential aspects of monasticism that were contained in the Christian message from the beginning? What precisely defines the two opposing views toward monasticism and monastic forms of spirituality? Again dogma and spirituality are intertwined, are inseparable, and again it concerns the metaphysics of human life and destiny.

Fr. Georges Florovsky, The Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers, chapter five.

There is much here that strikes me as important even though Fr Florovsky does not develop these two differing views, at least not here. His words remind me of a quote from Peter Brown’s The Body and Society that I once noted:

Theologians of ascetic background, throughout the fourth and fifth centuries, would not have pursued with such ferocious energy the problems around the incarnation of Christ and the related uniting of the human and the divine in one person had they not experienced it as a compelling image of the mysterious union of body and soul in themselves.

(My apologies: this is not an accurate quote as I only have access to a Dutch translation of Brown’s book and am translating it back into English. I’ll try and get hold of the original English and update this sometime!)

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